This was a day I thought would never come.
No, I don’t mean because the Mets actually beat the Phillies. You know what I’m talking about … that other big news. I never thought the day would come where the face of the September 11th attacks would fall victim to American forces. I would have expected to hear that his death was quiet, natural, five years ago, other terms to that affect. But America brought the symbol of evil to justice, and I never thought it would have been allowed to happen. It’s certainly a day to be thankful to live in a country where the people protecting it are relentless and unwavering in their willingness to risk their lives in that pursuit.
For me, it’s also a day to be reflective. To be solemn. To remember those we lost. To remember where I was. The odor in the air the next day as the wind blew the unmistakable stench of death due east. A train stop packed with people during morning rush hour on September 12th go about their day eerily silent. The military vehicles dominating streets in Manhattan where cars usually roam. The fighter jets adding a whoosh to what should have been a quiet weekend. All of it rushed back when Sunday’s announcement was made. How could it not? I was lucky enough not to have lost anybody close that day, but it put a pit in my stomach then and now. It sure as hell rushes back for those who lost family, loved ones, friends. It’s a day to hurt for them, and hope that they can be provided some sort of comfort in all this, however minute it may be.
When we needed comfort, it was sports that helped us heal. But sports needed to heal too. It didn’t just start with the Mike Piazza home run. Two L.A. Kings scouts, Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis were killed on one of the hijacked planes. The first sporting event in New York since the attacks was actually a preseason hockey game at Madison Square Garden. I was in the building that night. It was as solemn and weird and sad as it gets as we cried over those that were lost. Hockey cried over two of its family members as well.
Baseball returned with the Mets on the road against Pittsburgh on September 17th. Again, sad … solemn … I’ll never forget how monotone and down Gary Thorne was after the last pitch was thrown by John Franco … as if to say “why are we even here?” I wondered too.
September 21st, the day that baseball came back to New York, was the day that sports was fully ready to help us heal. Liza Minelli singing. Bobby Valentine dancing at the place where just days earlier he was helping move supplies when Shea Stadium was a rescue station. Mike Piazza doing what Mike Piazza had done many times before, and many times since, but nothing that will be remembered like the one that night.
Hearing about the demise of our most symbolic enemy reminded me that there’s still a hole in our city. There’s still a hole left by the good people we lost in 2001 that will still only be filled with memories for all of us. There’s still a pit in my stomach that comes when I remember everything that happened. It’ll always be there. There’s still a hole in my heart to go along with the hole that was put in New York City. My city. Your city. Our city.
And then, through all of this, I looked up and saw that there was baseball still on the tube. A Sunday night Mets game that should have long been over by the time the President made his announcement. A Mets game where Bobby Valentine was in the building, and where the catcher got the game winning hit. On a smaller scale, tonight, when all those sad memories returned for me, a Mets game was there as a diversion. Most nights I’d be complaining about Tim Byrdak giving up an RBI to the one guy he was brought here to get out. Tonight, it was kind of a good thing, for it enabled more baseball to be played. And at that point, it didn’t matter who won or who lost, but just that it was on. Sports helped us heal then. It helped divert me tonight. I’m thankful to be in a country where we can have such diversions.
I’m thankful to be in a city where no matter what happens, nobody will ever stop us from embracing our diversions. My city. Your city. Our city.